NYS bishops release pastoral statement on care and treatment of persons with mental illness

Published on February 6th, 2014

The Catholic Bishops of New York State have released a pastoral statement urging compassion and acceptance for people suffering from mental illness. At the same time, the New York State Catholic Conference released a statement with specific policy recommendations related to people with mental illness.

The bishops’ statement, titled, ‘For I am Lonely and Afflicted’: Toward a Just Response to the Needs of Mentally Ill Persons, cites the example of Jesus in the Gospels in demonstrating how society should respond to such individuals, saying, “we must reject the twin temptations of stereotype and fear, which can cause us to see mentally ill people as something other than children of God, made in His image and likeness, deserving of our love and respect.”

The bishops note that fewer than 5 percent of violent acts are committed by people with mental illness, adding that, “persons with mental illness are more often victims than perpetrators of violent acts, and they also are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse.”

Finally the bishops call on Catholics to be welcoming of people with mental illness.

“Let us be clear, it is our duty and the duty of every pastor, every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible,” they wrote.

The Catholic Conference’s policy proposals include a language change in the NY SAFE Act regarding the point at which mental health professionals must report concerns related to potentially violent behavior of their clients, adequate funding for community-based mental health services, and enhanced services in the criminal justice system for mentally ill individuals. The Conference applauds Gov. Cuomo’s willingness to keep an open mind and make modifications to the state Office of Mental Health’s plan to consolidate 24 inpatient facilities into 15 regional Centers of Excellence.